Race relationships

Torea Frey

Just after noon Monday, Parkes Hall room 122 looked like a grade school cafeteria, with groups of seven or eight students gathered at circular tables and chatting over burritos from Chipotle Mexican Grill.

But scattered amid small plastic tubs of guacamole were copies of Cornel West’s “Race Matters.” As they spoke, some students glanced through the pages, drawing on West’s ideas while discussing the political and racial realities of America.

While some of their peers saluted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by spending the day in bed, 15 middle and high school students from area schools attended the first Eva Jefferson Paterson Civil Rights Program.

Students from schools such as Evanston Township High School and King Lab School spent the day with Northwestern mentors. In addition to attending a speech by West and participating in two seminars, the pairs spent one-on-one time discussing college and personal issues.

“I’ve made connections,” said Osato Dixon, a Communication junior and former Daily staffer. “Kids pick up on my interesting character, know that they can look up to me as a building block.”

Organizers and mentors tried to challenge visiting students with questions about race relations to foster an exchange of ideas.

“This might be students’ first chances to talk about these issues,” said Faisal Mohyuddin, an Education graduate student. “They get to stand in the audience and see a great figure firsthand. Talking with people from different backgrounds, even from the same high school, frees them up.”

During an hour-long seminar, philosophy Prof. Robert Gooding-Williams and sociology Prof. Aldon Morris reviewed West’s speech with the group and discussed King’s legacy.

“It was a very unique opportunity to hear what students had to say, what they’re feeling,” Morris said. “Any time you have a group of young people reflecting, you hope they can really take that and keep growing with it.”

Some students, such as ETHS freshman Denise Clarke, said they enjoyed the chance to debrief after West’s talk.

“The seminars were good for me,” said Clarke, 15. “It helped me keep my biases to myself and helped me to keep my mind open.”

The other seminar featured Jody Kretzmann, research associate for the Institute for Policy Research, and Martha Biondi, professor of African-American studies.

Clarke said if she did participate in the program next year, she would like to talk in smaller sessions split up by age groups.

Alice Holmes, 11, from King Lab School, echoed the suggestion.

“It was really good,” she said. “But some parts I couldn’t understand because they used really big words.”

Heads of Associated Student Government’s MLK Day committee said they hope to use this feedback to improve and expand the program for future years.

ASG President Rachel Lopez and Dale Vieregge, who led the committee, said next year they would like to bring more students to campus and attract more mentors for them.